Julius Caesar Summary and Study Guide

Summary Biography, Timeline, and Study Questions on Gaius Julius Caesar

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Julius Caesar may have been the greatest man of all times. His birth date was July 12/13, probably in the year 100 B.C., although it may have been in 102 B.C. Caesar died March 15, 44 B.C., which date is known as the Ides of March.

By age 39/40, Julius Caesar had been a widower, divorce, governor (propraetor) of Further Spain, captured by pirates, hailed imperator by adoring troops, quaestor, aedile, consul, named to an important priesthood, and elected pontifex maximus (although he may not have been installed) -- a lifelong honor usually reserved for the end of a man's career.

What was left for his remaining 16/17 years? That for which Julius Caesar was most well known: the Triumvirate, military victories in Gaul, the dictatorship, civil war, and, finally, assassination.

Julius Caesar was a general, a statesman, a lawgiver, an orator, an historian, and a mathematician. His government (with modifications) endured for centuries. He never lost a war. He fixed the calendar. He created the first news sheet, Acta Diurna, which was posted on the forum to let everyone who cared to read it know what the Assembly and Senate were up to. He also instigated an enduring law against extortion.

Caesar vs. the Aristocracy

He traced his ancestry to Romulus, putting him in as aristocratic a position as possible, but his association with his uncle Marius' populism put Julius Caesar in political hot water with many of his social class.

Under the penultimate Roman king, Servius Tullius, the patricians developed as the privileged class.

The patricians then took over as the ruling class when the Roman people, who were fed up with kings, drove out Servius Tullius' murderer and successor. This Etruscan king of Rome was referred to as Tarquinius Superbus 'Tarquin the Proud'. With the end of the period of kings, Rome entered into the period of the Roman Republic.

At the start of the Roman Republic, the Roman people were mainly farmers, but between the fall of monarchy and the rise of Julius Caesar, Rome changed dramatically. First it mastered Italy; then it turned its sights to the Carthaginian hold on the Mediterranean, to gain supremacy over which it needed a fighting naval force. Citizen fighters left their fields prey to land speculators, although if all went well, they returned home with ample booty. Rome was building its remarkable empire. Between slaves and the conquered wealth, the hard-working Roman became the luxury-seeking spendthrift. Real work was carried out by slaves. A rural lifestyle gave way to urban sophistication.

Rome Avoided Kings

The governing style that developed as an antidote to monarchy originally included severe limitations on the power of any one individual. But by the time large-scale, enduring wars became the norm, Rome needed powerful leaders whose terms would not end mid-battle. Such men were called dictators. They were supposed to step down after the crisis for which they were appointed, although during the late Republic, Sulla had put his own time limits on his term as dictator. Julius Caesar became dictator for life (literally, perpetual dictator).

Note: Although Julius Caesar may have been permanent dictator, he was not the first Roman "emperor".

The conservatives resisted change, seeing the downfall of the Republic in every nuance of reform. Thus Julius Caesar's murder was incorrectly hailed by them as the only way back to the old values. Instead, his murder led to the rise of, first, civil war, and next, the first Roman princeps (from which we get the word 'prince'), whom we refer to as the Emperor Augustus.

  • Overview
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Overview | Important Facts About Julius Caesar | Timeline | Study Guide | Terms

There are only a few names of the great men and women of the ancient world whom almost everyone recognizes. Among these is the last dictator of the Roman Republic, Julius Caesar, whose assassination Shakespeare immortalized in his play Julius Caesar. Here are some of the main points to know about this great Roman leader.

1. Caesar's Birth

Julius Caesar was probably born 3 days before the Ides of July, in 100 B.C. That date would be July 13. Other possibilities are that he was born on July 12 in 100 B.C. or that he was born on July 12 or 13 in the year 102 B.C.

2. Caesar's Pedigreed Family

His father's family was from the patrician gens of the Julii.

The Julii traced its lineage to the first king of Rome, Romulus, and the goddess Venus or, instead of Romulus, to Venus' grandson Ascanius (aka Iulus or Jullus; whence Julius). One patrician branch of the Julian gens was called Caesar. [See Surnames of the Julii from UNRV.] Julius Caesar's parents were Gaius Caesar and Aurelia, daughter of Lucius Aurelius Cotta.

3. Familial Ties

Julius Caesar was related by marriage to Marius.

The first 7-time consul, Marius supported the and opposed Sulla. Sulla supported the optimates. (It is common, but inaccurate to consider the optimates like the conservative party and the populares like the liberal party of modern political systems.)

Perhaps more familiar to military history buffs, Marius drastically reformed the military during the Republican period.

4. Caesar and the Pirates

The young Julius went to Rhodes to study oratory, but on his way he was captured by pirates whom he charmed and seemingly befriended. After he was freed, Julius arranged to have the pirates executed.

5. Cursus Honorum

  • Quaestor
    Julius entered the course of advancement (cursus honorum) in the Roman political system as quaestor in 68 or 69 B.C.
  • Curule Aedile
    In 65 B.C., Julius Caesar became curule aedile and then managed to be appointed to the position of pontifex maximus, contrary to convention, since he was so young.
  • Praetor
    Julius Caesar became praetor for 62 B.C. and during that year divorced his second wife for not being above suspicion, in the Bona Dea scandal involving Claudius/Clodius Pulcher.
  • Consul
    Julius Caesar won one of the consulships in 59 B.C. The chief advantage for him of this top political position was that following the term in office, he would become governor (proconsul) of a lucrative province.
  • Proconsul
    After his term as consul, Caesar was sent to Gaul as the proconsul.

6. Caesar's Promiscuity

  • Mistresses
    Julius Caesar himself was guilty of many extra-marital affairs, -- with Cleopatra, among others. One of the most significant relations was with Servilia Caepionis, the half-sister of Cato the Younger. Because of this relationship, it was thought possible that Brutus was Julius Caesar's son.
  • Male Lover
    Julius Caesar was taunted all his life with charges of having been the lover of King Nicomedes of Bithynia.
  • Wives
    Julius Caesar married Cornelia, a daughter of Marius' associate, Lucius Cornelius Cinna, then a relative of Pompey named Pompeia, and finally, Calpurnia.

7. Triumvirate

Julius Caesar engineered a 3-way division of power with enemies Crassus and Pompey that was known as the Triumvirate.

More on the 1st Triumvirate

8. Caesar's Prose

Second-year Latin students are familiar with the military side of Julius Caesar's life. As well as conquering the Gallic tribes, he wrote about the Gallic Wars in clear, elegant prose, referring to himself in the third person. It was through his campaigns that Julius Caesar was finally able to work his way out of debt, although the third member of the triumvirate, Crassus, also helped.

Caesar's Gallic Wars Commentaries

Caesar's Civil Wars Commentaries

9. Rubicon and Civil War

Julius Caesar refused to obey the command of the Senate, but instead led his troops across the Rubicon river, which started civil war.

10. Ides of March and Assassination

Julius Caesar was the Roman dictator with divine honors, but he didn't have a crown. In 44 B.C. conspirators, claiming they feared Julius Caesar was aiming to become king, assassinated Julius Caesar on the Ides of March.

11. Caesar's Heirs

Although Julius Caesar had a living son, Caesarion (not officially acknowledged), Caesarion was an Egyptian, the son of Queen Cleopatra, so Julius Caesar adopted a great nephew, Octavian, in his will. Octavian was to become the first Roman emperor, Augustus.

12. Caesar Trivia

Caesar was known to be careful or abstemious in his consumption of wine and was said to have been particular in his hygiene, including having himself depilitated. I don't have a source for this.

List of Five Accomplishments of Julius Caesar

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Major Events in the Timeline of Julius Caesar

102/100 B.C. - July 13/12 - Caesar's Birth

84 - Caesar marries the daughter of L. Cornelius Cinna

75 - Pirates capture Caesar

73 - Caesar is elected Pontifex

69 - Caesar is quaestor. Julia, Caesar's aunt (Marius' widow), dies. Cornelia, the wife of Caesar, dies

67 - Caesar marries Pompeia

65 - Caesar is elected Aedile

63 - Caesar is elected Pontifex Maximus

62 - Caesar is praetor. Caesar divorces Pompeia

Tatum's offers insight.
61 - Caesar is Propraetor of Further Spain

60 - Caesar is elected Consul and forms the Triumvirate

59 - Caesar is Consul

58 - Caesar defeats the Helvetii and Germans

55 - Caesar crosses the Rhine and invades Britain

54 - Caesar's daughter, who is also Pompey's wife, dies

53 - Crassus is killed

52 - Clodius is murdered; Caesar defeats Vercingetorix

49 - Caesar crosses the Rubicon - Civil War begins

48 - Pompey is murdered

46 - Thapsus Battle (Tunisia) against Cato and Scipio. Caesar made dictator. (Third time.)

45 or 44 (Before Lupercalia) - Caesar is declared dictator for life; literally perpetual dictator*

Ides of March - Caesar is assassinated

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*For most of us, the distinction between perpetual dictator and dictator for life is trivial; however, it is a source of controversy for some.
Caesar's final step, according to Alfoldi, was a compromise. He had been designated Dictator in perpetuum (Livy Ep. CXVI), or as the coins read, Dictator perpetuo (never, according to Alfoldi p. 36, perpetuus; note that Cicero** cited the dative, dictatori perpetuo, which could fit either form), apparently in the fall of 45 B.C. (Alfoldi pp. 14-15). He had taken up this new dictatorship upon the conclusion of his fourth annual dictatorship on or near February 15."
Mason Hammond. Review of "Studien über Caesars Monarchie by Andreas Alföldi." The Classical Weekly, Vol. 48, No. 7 (Feb. 28, 1955), pp. 100-102.
[See Comments]
** C. Caesari, dictatori perpetuo,
Cic. Phil. 2.87

Cicero (106-43 B.C.) and Livy (59 B.C.-A.D. 17) were contemporaries of Caesar.

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Study Guide

Non-Fiction

  • "Caesar's Final Aims," by Victor Ehrenberg. Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, Vol. 68, (1964), pp. 149-161.
  • Caesar : Life of a Colossus, by Adrian Goldsworthy
  • , by Erich Gruen.
  • Caesar, by Christian Meier. 1995
  • , by H.H. Scullard. Reissued in 1990.
  • Party Politics in the Age of Caesar, by Lily Ross Taylor. Reissued in 1995.
  • The Roman Revolution, by Ronald Syme. 1969.
  • , by Plantagenet Somerset Fry. 1974.
Fiction

Colleen McCullough's Masters of Rome series provides a well researched historical fiction series on Julius Caesar:

  • First Man in Rome
  • The Grass Crown
  • Fortune's Favorites
  • Caesar's Women
  • Caesar, A Novel
  • The October Horse
Ancient SourcesQuestions to Consider

1.

  • What would have happened to Rome had Caesar remained in power?
  • Would the Republic have continued?
  • Was the change from Republic to Empire inevitable?

    2.

  • Were Caesar's assasins traitors?
  • Was Caesar a traitor when he crossed the Rubicon?
  • Under what circumstances is treason justified?

    3.

  • Why is Caesar the greatest leader ever?
  • What reasons are there for saying he was not?
  • What are Caesar's most important/lasting contributions?
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    Gill, N.S. "Julius Caesar Summary and Study Guide." ThoughtCo, Aug. 9, 2016, thoughtco.com/julius-caesar-summary-and-study-guide-117538. Gill, N.S. (2016, August 9). Julius Caesar Summary and Study Guide. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/julius-caesar-summary-and-study-guide-117538 Gill, N.S. "Julius Caesar Summary and Study Guide." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/julius-caesar-summary-and-study-guide-117538 (accessed November 22, 2017).